Home > Art, Sculpture & Photography, History, People, Space, Things I Like... > Alan Bean: Moon Dust in every Painting…

Alan Bean: Moon Dust in every Painting…

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

book jacketI’ve been re-reading Andrew Smith’s excellent book, Moon Dust. Published about 10 years ago it’s an absorbing series of tales that came out of Smith visiting, talking to and recording the thoughts of the last 9 people to ever have walked upon the surface of the Moon. Forty years after the moon landings, how did the momentous events of that period shape their lives once they got back and realised they were never going to top those feelings again…

Over the two and a half year period from July 1969 to December 1972, there were 7 flights to the moon, from Apollo 11 to Apollo 17. Apollo 13 famously didn’t make it due to problems with exploding oxygen tanks, which means that 12 men have left their boot prints in the lunar dust.

At the time the book was written, three of these men, Conrad, Irwin & Shepard had passed away leaving only 9. (To this list we now need to add Armstrong who died in 2012)

I’ve made this quick table of the astronauts that made the journey. There are a surprising number of names that are unfamiliar, considering what they achieved, the CM pilots who never reached the moon’s surface, especially so.

Apollo Flights copyThe book is truly fascinating, touching on the highs and lows, the expectations and the disappointments, the marriage breakdowns, the back stabbing, the hierarchy within NASA, the demeaning appearances at conventions for the less well known, the voices from god, the new age beliefs and ultimately asks each man, where they felt they were at the turn of the 21st century, mentally, physically and spiritually…

I can recommend it thoroughly.

NightLaunch 1975One name that has stuck with me is that of Alan Bean. The fourth man to stand on the moon, his post moonwalk journey seems to have been both less traumatic and less obvious that the others.

Staying on at NASA, he lived in Skylab for 56 days over the summer of 1975, was a key member of the joint US/ Russian Soyuz programme before leaving NASA in 1981 to become a full time professional artist.

Attending art night classes whilst on astronaut training, his early work (Night Launch above from 1975) had to my eyes at least, genuine promise, with its expressionistic plumes of exhaust smoke from the jet engines creating a real sense of power.

beanToolsHowever since the early 80’s Bean has developed a singular visual style that focuses solely on the limited amount of time (in his case less than 4 hours) that he and the others spent on the moon, endlessly reinterpreting and deconstructing his memories, sometimes painting exactly the same scene 6, 7, 8 times slightly altering the colours or minutely correcting details in order to capture the essence of the experience…

Bean begins by painting the canvas (or more usually a solid backboard) with a thick paste which he then imprints with a variety of devices especially moon boots and tools he brought back from his trip. He also sticks into the paste small cut offs from the various badges and patches that were sewn onto his space suit. These are ingrained with fine grains of moon dust which then become part of the painting. He also uses specially commissioned scale models to help him “meticulously construct” the desired view and get the lighting correct..

The results I would suggest are mixed…

Some are pretty good like the following four, which capture some of the feelings of what it must have felt like to be so far from home in such an alien landscape…





Examples of the same view done over and over with slight variations in colour and detail…

colours moon

Some works however are less impressive, as Bean seems to rely too heavily on his imprinting techniques to carry his vision across…


And others are just bizarre.. Oddly these seem to be the ones where he deviates from what happened and relies more on his imagination…



Still Alan Bean comes across as a contented man in Andrew Smith’s book, which is more than can be said of the other astronauts he meets, many of whom struggled to come to terms with Life after Lunar. And why not, most of Bean’s work is sold as soon as it’s finished for pretty big bucks. There are a few originals available here if you fancy one. Prices start from around $70K. The cheesy (and not unsurprisingly unsold in my book) flag and gold olive leaf one above will set you back nearly $450K…

There’s also a gallery of all Alan Bean’s paintings here where I’ve taken all of the images for this post from.

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